RIP: Retired Maryland Bishop David Keller Leighton Sr.

Posted Aug 8, 2013

ens_080813_davidLeightonEditors note: Story updated Aug. 9 with location, date of funeral services.

[Episcopal Diocese of Maryland press release] The Rt. Rev. David Keller Leighton Sr., 11th bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland 1972-1985, died on August 7, 2013 at the age of 91. He was born January 22, 1922 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He retired to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia in 1985 to Greenwood near Charlottesville, to a circa 1799 farmhouse on 32 acres of hardwood and meadow. He returned to Maryland in 1994, residing in Annapolis. Bishop Leighton moved to Fairhaven Retirement Community, Sykesville, in 1999 with his wife, Carolyn, until his death.

Leighton’s funeral is set for 10:30 a.m. EDT Aug. 10 at Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore.

He was consecrated bishop coadjutor on Nov. 30, 1968, at Emmanuel Church, Cathedral Street, Baltimore, and served for three years until becoming bishop diocesan at a medieval festival institution celebration in January 1972 at the Interfaith Center in Columbia. It was an innovative experience with balloons, youth as clowns, much music and a photo slide show.

He served as archdeacon of Maryland 1964-1968 under Bishop Harry Lee Doll. Prior to that he was the rector of the Church of the Holy Nativity, Forest Park, northwest Baltimore, beginning in 1959.

A native of Pittsburgh, Bishop Leighton earned his Bachelor of Science degree in 1947 from Northwestern University and embarked upon a career with General Motors Corp. as assistant employment manager at Fisher Body’s Pittsburgh stamping plant. During World War II he was sergeant major of Headquarters Ninth Air Force, serving on General Brereton’s staff, for three years where he was awarded the Presidential Citation; and six battle stars for service in the China-Burma-India Theatre; the European-Middle Eastern Theatre; and the American Theatre.

At the age of 32 he gave up his position at Fisher Body to begin a new life in the priesthood of the Episcopal Church. After attending the Virginia Theological Seminary, he was ordained to the priesthood in 1955. Following his ordination he served two churches in Pittsburgh: Calvary in East Liberty, and as rector of St. Andrew’s, Highland Park. He moved to Baltimore in 1959. The seminary awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in 1969.

Probably his most controversial act as bishop of Maryland was ordaining a woman, Phebe McPherson (née Coe), to the priesthood in December 1977, the first in the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland. Bishop Leighton wore a pair of striped wool socks to the ordination so that he “didn’t get cold feet.”

Signaling a monumental transition in style and vision during his episcopacy, Leighton possessed organizational skills from his days as a business executive, along with a vision of a modern, inclusive church. His commitment to ecumenical relations, Book of Common Prayer and Hymnal revisions, and the ordination of women reflected these visions.

Bishop Leighton was vice president of Church Home and Hospital in East Baltimore for 16 years. The Fairhaven Retirement Community in Sykesville was founded and built under his supervision (1974-1980). He was chair of the board of the Episcopal Ministries to the Aging 1980-1986; a teacher of Sacred Studies at St. Paul’s School, Brooklandville 1960-1963; chair of the board of the Hannah More Academy, Reisterstown; and on the board of its successor school St. Timothy’s School, Stevenson; and, chair of the board of St. James School, Hagerstown.

Bishop Leighton was one of the founders of Columbia Cooperative Ministry in the new town of Columbia and the first president of its congress; one of the founders and past-president of the Episcopal Church’s deployment office; co-founder with Cardinal Sheehan of the Interfaith Council of Baltimore; chair of the board of Uplands Home in Ten Hills; president of Chase Home in Annapolis for 14 years; served for 10 years on the board of the Ecumenical Institute of Theology at St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore; president of the Corporation for the Relief of Widows and Orphans of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, and its vice president and agent 1986-1996; and, one of the founders of the Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge Retirement Community in Charlottesville, Va.

He is survived by his wife of 68 years, the former Carolyn Smith, and three children: daughter Charlotte Leighton of Ft. Collins, Colorado; son David K. Leighton Jr. of Soquel, California; and daughter Nancy Koenig, wife of Harold Koenig, of Scottsville, Virginia; in addition to five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Read about Bishop Leighton’s work in his own words in The Culture is Changing ( (Maryland Church News, Summer, 2006)


Comments (4)

  1. Val Hymes says:

    I remember Bishop Leighton’s support of the rebirth of St. Andrew the Fisherman in Mayo, and how he came to spur it on in the ’70s. He was always so kind and gentle to everyone, except when he needed to get tough. He could do that too.

  2. I came into the Diocese of Maryland at a time that my personal and family life were in an uproar. Bishop Leighton was consistently kind and supportive as I made my way back into life and work. Thank you, David.

  3. I came into the Diocese of Maryland at a time when my personal, family, and vocational life were in an uproar. Bp. Leighton was consistently kind and supportive. Thank you, David.

  4. It’s sad that I found out this late about Bishop Leighton’s passing but I will always be glad that I met and knew him and now gives me pause at this later date, seven months later to reflect at a quieter time and remember our acquaintanceship so many years ago in the early 1980’s. He was very kind and cordial upon meeting me upon our discussion of the ecumenical campus ministry for various students, some Episcopalian, some Evangelical Lutheran, some of other faiths or not sure at all at the University of Maryland at Baltimore County, (UMBC), near Catonsville/Arbutus, southwest of Baltimore. He offered to visit with a Bishop’s Greeting for one of our services and later always asked how things were and invited me to occasionally stop by his offices at the old Diocesan House on West Monument Street and share a mid-day prayer service of the hours in the chapel. We were part of a greater activity on behalf of the inter-synodical Baltimore Lutheran Campus Ministry, then centered at Towson State University, at the Newman Center house, across Old York Road at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore’s student ministry with Fr. Robert Albright and Lutheran campus pastor, Rev. Andrea Hagen Diegel (one of the first women ordained in the old Eastern District of The American Lutheran Church – later asst. to the Bishop of the successor later merged denomination, the Delaware-Maryland Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America – unfortunately now recently deceased in 2013 also) who Bishop Leighton knew from his experiences with Rev. Phoebe Coe, the first woman priest he ordained in Maryland (and wife of the pastor of my home congregation – St. Paul’s Ev. Luth. of Curtis Bay, Md’s , Rev. Cameron Coe). Bishop Leighton will be well remembered, not only by Maryland Anglican/Episcopalians, but also by many Christians in other communities whom he touched in many positive ways during his decades in the Old Line State as priest/pastor/rector besides bishop, shared with Pennsylvania and Virginia. = D.E.T. (Fri., 2/7/2014)

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